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Council discusses state of emergency parameters

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

The Clemmons Village Council moved a step closer to updating an old ordinance regarding who can declare a state of emergency and under what circumstances in Monday night’s virtual meeting.

Council members raised concerns at the previous meeting over the mayor being able to call a state of emergency and issuing a shelter-in-place order in late March as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic without their approval — and councilwoman Mary Cameron stating such action should come from the entire governing body.

That resulted in the council asking for the manager and attorney to review the current policy, which was put in place in 2003 as a result of a tornado that hit Clemmons, and see if changes needed to be made.

Attorney Elliot Fus gave a report in Monday night’s meeting, which ultimately resulted in the council asking for a draft from Fus and Village Manager Scott Buffkin for their review — implementing the more up-to-date state law (2012) and seeking to add a differentiation between an act of God such as a tornado, hurricane or flood, and something like the recent pandemic.

Fus said that the ordinance in place looks like a lot of municipalities, such as Winston-Salem and others based on a sampling he took, and “overall does the trick” but that the N.C. law could offer “the most flexibility that you could possibly have, and you could pick and choose specific areas that you want to allow restrictions.”

Fus said that under the Clemmons ordinance the council can direct the mayor to terminate any state of emergency and amend any restrictions.

The council took no such action after Mayor John Wait became the first in Forsyth County to place a shelter-in-place order on March 23 ahead of Winston-Salem and later the county after getting confirmation of a confirmed coronavirus case at local manufacturing plant Hayward Industries, and talking extensively with local health officials about the advancing pandemic.

The council, which didn’t meet that week, didn’t connect as a collective body until the first virtual meeting on April 13 when Cameron brought up what she considered to be “a larger issue” regarding declaring a state of emergency — comparing what she called “a right-now situation where time was of the essence.”

Cameron added that she didn’t disagree with Wait’s actual stay-at-home order but that under the circumstances that it should have come from the entire governing body, not just the mayor.

In Monday night’s meeting, Wait questioned “when is it or is it not a time of the essence? In this circumstance, it was exactly like a tornado hitting. I decided shortly before the first order that we weren’t going to have council meeting that night, and at the time this was not on everyone’s radar. If we thought we needed a state of emergency with restrictions, we probably would have had a council meeting or figured out a way to do it.

“Then suddenly we had every hospital in the state saying, ‘hey you better sign these things, that you have hours not days to act,’ and I talked to other mayors and figured out what to do. I can’t conceive of language that would make that clear to the mayor of when they can or cannot act.”

All council members agreed by consensus that they would like to see an updated policy that would mirror the state statute. In addition to Cameron, councilwoman Michelle Barson and councilman Mike Rogers all said they would like to see language to make the distinction between types of emergencies.

“We could have one policy if a tornado hits at 3 a.m. in the morning, that, yes, the mayor goes ahead and declares a state of emergency,” Rogers said. “That’s something that has happened and isn’t something that is in the foreseeable future to occur. So you could just change the language something similar to that.”

Barson concurred, saying if time is available that it should be a council decision.

“What we want to avoid is the bell being rung in the first place if it doesn’t have to be exactly at the moment,” she said.

Councilmen Chris Wrights and Scott Binkley both stated they preferred to keep things simple and just follow the state statute.

In other business, the council approved the low bid of $746,053, which includes a 20% contingency from Sharpe Bros. for paving streets in Clemmons.

Buffkin said that a number of bids were received and that the price came in about $200,000 less than expected because of several factors.

“We actually have what I consider to be an exceptionally positive issue in that the bid came in a bit lower than what we need to spend,” said Buffkin, who added that the village received many favorable reviews on Sharpe Bros. “We are actually carrying more right now than the folks at the state treasurer like for us to have as far as a fund balance in our Powell Bill Funds. So we may need to actually add a couple of additional streets.”

Buffkin said that the state has currently suspended all of its paving contracts, which he figured helped with the number of bids and lower than expected pricing.

“I think we’ve got some contractors who are a bit eager for business, which was reflected in the bids we received,” Buffkin said.

Barson suggested that it might be a good time to pave more streets with more affordable pricing, particularly after recent discussions at the retreat on prioritizing funds for the Powell Bill and beyond, to save money in the long run.

Public Works Director Mike Gunnell said that although that idea makes a lot of sense, the village recently approved several capital improvement projects and wanted to hold back some funds for the fall.

“But I did add some funds as far as the bid above our threshold,” Gunnell said.

Buffkin said that the village would do as many streets as is “fiscally prudent” at this point and “keep an eye on the market” going forward.

In other highlights from Monday night’s virtual meeting, the council:

• Heard from Buffkin, who said that the two Clemmons deputies who were involved in the shooting incident that resulted in a death on March 24 on Lewisville-Clemmons Road in front of the Lowes Foods shopping center, have been cleared to return to active duty. “Even though it was an unfortunate situation, they handled themselves very well and represented the Village of Clemmons very well,” Buffkin said.

• Approved the major subdivision preliminary site plan review for Idolwood (C-20-001), a residential development (RS-9) with 30 lots located near Idols Road with direct access from Bluestone Park Drive. The subdivision is just over 14 acres with 2.13 lots per acre.

• Heard from Nasser Rahimzadeh, the planning and community development director, who said that last Tuesday night’s virtual Planning Board meeting, which was the first in that format and included a public hearing with questions submitted in advance, went well. The meeting, which lasted about three hours, included input on the Idolwood subdivision and the multi-family 78 units for one, two and three bedroom apartments located off U.S. 158.

• Heard that the village will advertise for the local boards — Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and Stormwater Advisory Board. There is current vacancy to fill on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

• Called for a public hearing for a Zoning Map Amendment for Carlos Pereira from RS-15 and LO-S to RM-12-S (Residential Building, Multifamily) located at 3462 Clemmons Road.

• Approved a slightly revised Remote Participation Policy.

• Appointed Cameron to be the council’s voting delegate for the N.C. League of Municipalities.

• Heard from Shannon Ford in the marketing/communications report that Firefighter Appreciation Day will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5, at Mama Mia’s Italian Ice. Cards, letters and drawings will be accepted to take to the local fire department. The Farmers Market is still scheduled to open on Saturday, May 9, at village hall with proper social distancing.